Elon Musk leapt his favoured platform of Twitter for this newest round of corporate diplomacy, so it’s imminent that he’s serious.
Musk spoke up over the weekend after a Friday report from the Wall Street Journal published that China would prevent “military staff and employees of key state-owned companies” from utilising Tesla vehicles. There’s anxiety that they present a national security risk as Tesla is an American company and its vehicles gather data.
One can recall that the previous Trump administration offered the same reason when the former president warned to ban TikTok in the U.S. which was a legally questionable mandate if the China-based ByteDance declined to sell the social media platform to an American buyer.
Speaking on Saturday at the Chinese Development Forum, an annual event organized by the Chinese government that unites the country with global business leaders, Musk tried to clarify that sharing data with government entities of any stripe would weaken Tesla’s business interests.
Musk also played down concerns regarding commercial espionage in general, indicating particularly towards the TikTok case as an example.
“Even if there was spying, what would the other country learn and would it actually matter? If it doesn’t matter, it’s not worth thinking about that much,” Musk said, adding that TikTok is originally a place where people are “just doing silly dances.”
Musk isn’t the first person to raise this question. While there are bipartisan matters in the U.S. related to China’s authoritarian rule, some feel that Trump’s decision to move against TikTok was personally motivated. Just weeks before declaring the ban, a segment of TikTok users banded together to increase the expected turnout for a then-upcoming Trump rally in Tulsa, Okla.
Similarly, China’s position toward Tesla is likely more about indirect retaliation instead of any genuine fear of the company joining in surveillance. The latest first face-to-face meeting between Chinese officials and the new Biden administration was dogged by reports of tense and perhaps not always friendly exchanges between the two nations.
Whatever the truth may be, Musk wishes the powers-that-be to rest assured that Tesla isn’t in the job of espionage.